STAR-KISSED CASSEROLE 


One big issue with small-town living is the meager group of people available for blame. It's hard to grouse about city hall when there ain't one. Still, word gets out quick when things go wrong, whether via the local 275-watt AM station or the town gossips (that's everyone). More than enough happens to keep tongues wagging in teeny-tiny Tuna, Texas, as the folks prep for the critical holidays in The Jester Theater Company's A Tuna Christmas.

The real litmus test of social standing in Tuna revolves around the annual decorating contest. No matter if home is a mansion or a mobile one, all citizens have an even shot at losing to flouncy Vera Carp and her nativity scene with real sheep and a light-up baby Jesus. It would be a miracle if Vera didn't take top honors for the 15th year in a row. But miracles do happen, as do alien abductions, and there's more to this burg than meets the eye: jealousy, infidelity and people trying not to appear as pathetic as they really are.

We see Tuna through the performance of two versatile comedic actors portraying 22 locals with quick costume changes and some of the scariest drag in recent memory. The bulkier residents fall under Jay Hopkins' purview, and he triumphs as Bertha Bumiller, the abused wife and mother. Bertha nurtures delinquent Stanley, whom everyone suspects is the Christmas Phantom, and trashy Charlene, who has fallen in love with Joe Bob Lipsey (also Hopkins), a big-time theatrical director from Lubbock.

Countering Hopkins' 5 o'clock shadow is the mercurial Jason Horne, who morphs into other people so well I suspected there were other actors sneaking in. His pice de résistance is violent DiDi Snavely, owner of DiDi's Used Weapons, who scares even her own half-wit husband R.R. DiDi's motto: If we can't kill it, it's immortal. Horne is a hoot and a half, especially when hoisting his fake hooters.

A Tuna Christmas parodies the typical rural stereotypes, cartooning them to five times normal size and eliminating any shame in laughing at rednecks. These people take pride in what they are, even if they can't say what that is, exactly. Consider the two town trollops, holding court at the Tastee Kreme, seducing anyone who looks like he needs a friend for an hour. Sure, their friends call them Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd, but they stand ready to bring cheap sex and easy dating to the horny men of this blip on the map. Now that's solidarity.

What makes Tuna tick? It's not just the good-natured silliness of the townies and the ribald life they lead but the deep look into humankind's faults. Who hasn't been irked by failing to take the neighborhood decorating trophy after dropping $500 at Target? And who wouldn't want the production of A Christmas Carol to go off cleanly if it meant your son could finish probation and catch the next bus to Albuquerque to be a taxidermist? And goodness knows we all want to wipe out the blue jays that terrorize our cats, no matter what those goody-two-shoes at the Humane Society advise. Tuna draws these folks together, showing families more like our own than we want to admit, and it sets them in a safe place where you can laugh at them and not just with them.

More by Al Pergande

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